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They’re basically unrecognizable–I only know who’s who from watching them every day.  Their bodies are about the size of a coffee mug, and they weigh about 3/4 pound.  They eat all the time.  Instead of sounding like a squeaky bicycle wheel, their voices have lowered just a little and now sound like songbird conversations, complete with trills and some proto-clucks.

Zoe and I helped take care of her kindergarten’s incubator this month and got to see some chicks hatch.  It was hard to believe that our own birds were that small 21 days ago, so I decided to do a Before & After.  Hopefully this will be helpful to other new chick owners trying to figure out what their birds will look like as they grow.

barred rock chick day old   barred rock 3 weeks

[Barred Rock] Jumpy’s “J” has blurred and faded, and she’s huge.  But she still likes to jump.  She’s always the first to jump to the highest available perch at any moment.

barred rock chick day old  barred rock chick 3 weeks old

[Barred Rock] Lumpy, former thug, has mellowed.  She and Two Patch didn’t grow as fast as the others, so they tend to hang back a bit.  Lumpy’s still a speed demon at catching ants though.

barred rock chick day old  barred rock chick 3 weeks

[Barred Rock]One Patch has become a very competent flyer and often hops up to join Jumpy wherever she’s just perched.

barred rock chick day old  barred rock chick 3 weeks

[Barred Rock] Two Patch is the runt of the litter.  She’s still a bit of a loner, and it’s hard to catch a shot of her because her head is always in motion.

ameraucana chick day old  ameraucana 3 weeks

[Ameraucana] Feather is enormous.  So enormous she can’t fly really at all.  When everyone else flies up to the side of the box, Feather stays behind at the feeder–still eating.

ameraucana chick day old  ameraucana chick 3 weeks

[Ameraucana] Spalty, though almost as big as Feather, can still hop and fly pretty well. She’s usually the 5th up to a perch, after Jumpy, One Patch, Stripèd, and Stormy.

silver laced wyandotte chick day old  silver laced wyandotte 3 weeks

[Silver Laced Wyandotte] Stripèd is developing some of the distinctive silver-white plumage her breed is named for.  She’s very fat, a good flyer, and somewhat domineering.

silver laced wyandotte chick one day  silver laced wyandotte 3 weeks

[Silver Laced Wyandotte] Stormy, who was almost identical to Stripèd a few weeks ago, has darkened and now looks like an Edward Gorey character in a fur coat.  Like her sister Wyandotte, Stripèd, she carries her considerable bulk easily on short hops and flights.

In a week, they go outside to live in their chicken ark! and truthfully, though I love having them around in the kitchen, I can’t wait.  The dust baths are getting out of control, and they are desperate to forage outside and enjoy some more space…


Read the NPR story here: Stand Back When Snapping Turtles Crop Up In the Garden.

chelydra serpentina, female turtle laying eggsThis week my garden had a couple of uninvited guests, in the form of Chelydra serpentina, the common snapping turtle. I had accidentally left the garden gate open and–apparently–in strolled a 30-pound snapping turtle. At first I thought she was a leather briefcase or something and I had to check with myself–is there some reason I might have left a satchel in the strawberry patch? Maybe? Maybe I’m a GP, and I was making house calls, and I took a shortcut through the garden and left my bag there?

My friend Macaylla, who happened to have stopped by, removed the turtle for me.  But an hour later, I returned to check my favas for blackfly, and there in Bed 12 was *another* snapping turtle. This one just a little smaller. I went back in, got my boots and gloves, and came back full of purpose, only to lose my nerve at the last minute in the face of those prehistoric, beady, “Despicable Me” eyes. Instead I took a picture.

chelydra serpentina eggs Yesterday morning, it became clear that Mrs. Snapper had left behind more than just a photograph, as I discovered while putting the zucchini and peppers in the bed she had occupied . The eggs couldn’t stay in the garden, so I stashed them in a couple of transplant pots.

This, apparently, was the wrong thing to do.  But I only found that out later, when an NPR friend encouraged me to submit the story to the site’s food blog, The Salt, which I’ve admired for a long time.  I immediately began to acquire a very, very large quantity of facts about snapping turtles very, very quickly.

Many thanks to all who contributed their opinions, experiences, and helping hands this extraordinary Week of the Turtle.

Well, the list has gone live! After about 4 weeks of reading, browsing, asking the 7 questions, and recipe-testing (ask my family), my top 10 choices for summer cookbooks are now public.  Read the story on the NPR website.

Following the top 10 is my own shortlist, which includes all the outstanding cookbooks that didn’t make it into the NPR article–lots of terrific choices for newlyweds, new college graduates, parents, and, well, everybody.

The NPR Summer 2012  Top 10:

  1. The Sunset Edible Garden Cookbook
  2. The Fresh & Green Table, by Susie Middleton
  3. Herbivoracious, by Michael Natkin
  4. Asian Tofu, by Andrea Nguyen
  5. Pasta Italiana, by Gino d’Acampo
  6. The Fresh Egg, by Jennifer Trainer Thompson
  7. Ripe, by Nigel Slater
  8. Ripe, by Cheryl Sternman Rule & Paulette Philpot
  9. United States of Pie, by Adrienne Kane
  10. Humphry Slocombe Ice Cream Book, by Jake Godby, Sean Vahey, Frankie Frankeny and Paolo Lucchesi

The Shortlist:

Outstanding Book for Slow Foodistas
A Girl and Her Pig: Recipes and Stories, by April Bloomfield with J.J. Goode

Outstanding Seasonal-Eating Cookbook 
The Farm: Rustic Recipes for a Year of Incredible Food, by Ian Knauer

Best Kitchen Gardener’s Book:
Grow Cook Eat: A Food Lover’s Guide to Vegetable Gardening, Including 50 Recipes, Plus Harvesting and Storage Tips, by Willi Galloway

Best Reboot-Your-Salad Book:
Salad for Dinner: Complete Meals for All Seasons, by Jeanne Kelley

Exquisite Gluten-Free Book
La Tartine Gourmande: Recipes for an Inspired Life, by Béatrice Peltre

Ingredient-Focused Book from a Hunky Newcomer
Hero Food: How Cooking with Delicious Things Can Make Us Feel Better, by Seamus Mullen

How-to-Cookbook with an Emphasis on Lots of Recipes
How to Cook Everything the Basics: All You Need to Make Great Food, by Mark Bittman

How-to-Cook Book with an Emphasis on Helpful Process Photographs
What to Cook and How to Cook It: Fresh and Easy, by Jane Hornby

Food of Many Nations Primer
Cindy’s Supper Club: Meals from Around the World to Share with Family and Friends, by Cindy Pawlcyn

Buzz-Free Liquid Refreshment Book
Sip and Savor: Drinks for Party and Porch, by James T. Farmer III

Mouthwatering Ice Cream Book
Sweet Cream and Sugar Cones: 90 Recipes for Making Your Own Ice Cream and Frozen Treats from Bi-Rite Creamery, by Kris Hoogehyde, Anne Walker, and Dabney Gough

Multiethnic Comfort Food from a Talented Newcomer
Comfort and Spice, by Niamh Shields

Fun Trend Cookbook for Bedside Reading
The Truck Food Cookbook: 150 Recipes and Ramblings from America’s Best Restaurants on Wheels, by John T. Edge

Giftworthy-Design DIY Book
A Country Cook’s Kitchen: Simple Recipes for Making Breads, Cheese, Jams, Preserves, Cured Meats, and More, by Alison Walker

Make-Your-Own-Snacks Book:
The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You can stop Buying and Start Making, by Alana Chernila

French Country Fantasy Book:
Nature: Simple, Healthy, and Good, by Alain Ducasse

Seasonal Cookbook Best Suited for an Art Gallery
The Perfect Ingredient: 5 Fantastic Ways to Cook Apples, Beets, Pork, Scallops, and More, by Bryn Williams

Even-in-the-Summer Baking Book
CakeLove in the Morning: Recipes for Muffins, Scones, Panckaes, Waffles, Biscuits, Frittatas, and Other Breakfast Treats, by Warren Brown

Attractive Glossary for a Dwindling Food Supply
Fish: Recipes from the Sea, by C.J. Jackson and Barton Seaver

Perfect Gift in Lieu of a Bouquet
Edible Flowers: 25 Recipes and an A-Z Pictorial Directory of Culinary Flora, by Kathy Brown

Good New Idea for a Regional Cookbook
The New Middle Eastern Vegetarian: Modern Recipes from Veggiestan, by Sally Butcher

Just-For-Fun, Not-a-Book Cocktail Guide
Mrs. Lilien’s Cocktail Swatchbook

And don’t forget, summer is the season for narrative! now that you have time to read, take a moment to savor tales of food forays, quests, and misadventures.  You can find them in my own book, A Spoonful of Promises: Recipes and Stories from a Well-Tempered Table.

Ameraucana chick two weeksJust 13 days out of the shell, and the gallinaceous octet has doubled in size and character.  Their voices have dropped just a bit, from Geiger-counter peeps to squeaky bicycle wheel.  They’ve gotten the napping down to a science–15 minutes at a time, in unison.  All together now!

chicks 2 weeks      barred rock plumage     ameraucana 2 weeks     barred rock plumage

Their favorite activity at this age is preening their beautiful and rapidly emerging feathers.  (Pretty soon they’re going to be traveling in packs to the mall and asking to borrow the car.)  The Barred Rocks are getting kitted out in flamenco gear, while Spalty looks more like a rare hardwood than ever.  Meawhile, tiny toenails are being articulated, and a pert fan of tail feathers helps with balance.

chicks 2 weeks feeder eatingAll eight are also big fans of Eating.  When they wake up from nap, they stagger over to the trough and plunge their heads in mindlessly, insensible to all other stimuli.  At these moments, their resemblance to their principal caregiver is impossible to dismiss.

two week chicks roostAt 1 am on Friday night, I was awakened to what I’ve come to recognize as the “Man Down!” alarm–it sounds a bit like the scoring of the shower scene in Psycho.  I turned over in bed, hoping it would stop, but the urgency of the cries was unignorable.  I came downstairs to the sight of precocious  Jumpy, standing outside the box on the floor, completely disoriented,  like Dorothy in Oz.  As anticipated, she was the first to consummate her leap to the edge of the box, and, having arrived at the climactic moment, lost her balance and toppled (she’s since learned to balance).  Since then Stripèd, Stormy, Lumpy, and One Patch have successfully followed her example (you can see a few of them taking notes in the picture).

While only a handful have achieved the upward hop-jump-flight, all have mastered the wing-assisted downward plunge.  It’s a must when you are constantly being scooped up by a 5-year-old and placed on her shoulder.  Many choose to escape immediately, but a few, like Stripèd here, occasionally elect to hang out.

Here’s an informal write-up from my friend and fellow chowhound Mark Lattanzi.  The featured title is My Pizza, by Jim Lahey–the same Lahey whose no-knead bread made such a splash a few years back.  Mark and his wife Cindy are part of my own local food-wackjob community, and this foray was solidly in their tradition of beta-testing recipes most people either avoid or don’t have time to try more than once.

Incidentally the problematic broiler he mentions is the one we both have–ceramic infrared broilers built into our Blue Star ranges.  I like mine  and find it powerful enough, but I agree it’s too small.

Thanks for lending me the My Pizza book. I tried out Lahey’s technique twice (once with dough Cindy made, once with his no-knead dough).  The technique has promise but frankly, I think Blue Star broilers suck – too small to get good coverage on the pie, and kind of wimpy to boot.  So I can’t completely endorse the technique as I think our ovens are at a distinct disadvantage.

I also think that switching from oven to broil settings, while giving you a char on top, robs heat from the stone. The dough was never cooked enough on the bottom by the time the top was done. I could move the rack one setting lower and see if that helps, but I think with Blue Stars the way to go might be 500F + convection.

What failed to inspire was the dough. As Cindy said, “none of that no-knead dough has any flavor.” It did have a 21 hour rise, but was unremarkable. It’s not enough that it bubbled and charred; I want my pizza dough to contribute to the overall flavor. It might improve after a few days in the fridge, which he suggests.

I think absolute beginners would be unprepared for the serious challenge of taking a very wet, very slack lump of dough and shaping it. I got better by the 4th pie but Cindy says that was because the dough sat out on the counter and got another rise. I disagree – there was no second rise, as there was no punching down and no kneading. The dough sat there like a wet, untouched lump, silently challenging me to make something remotely circular without tearing holes in it.

I think the book has interesting topping ideas. I made the shaved asparagus pie and it was fantastic. Lots of the others look very tasty too.


You might remember a couple of unfortunate incidents last month having to do with pie.

The review, chronicling our household’s misadventures during the infamous “Week of Butter,” appears in today’s Globe.

Click here to read today’s review of Pie It Forward.

(Note: I made one mistake of my own in the review.  The puff pastry uses only a stand mixer, not a food processor and stand mixer.  Just goes to show you, nobody’s perfect!)

Do chickens really have personalities?  Is it, perhaps, just their owners’ weakness for anthropomorphizing, or maybe a tendency to project their own problems and fixations onto their pets? Is it, once again, a case of subjectivity overcoming the rational mind?

Who cares?  Let’s do it anyway!

barred rock chickbarred rock chickJumpy & Lumpy
(Barred Rocks)

The apparent brain trust of the flock thus far.  Jumpy (at right, with a white “J” on her head) is the smartest of the group–the first to find the feeder, the first to eat an ant, and likely to be the first to escape from the box.  She’s very curious, and jumps a lot because she wants to see what’s outside.  Lumpy (at left) looks almost identical to Jumpy, except she doesn’t have a J.  Also, she’s a thug.  If there’s trouble, Lumpy’s usually at the center of it.  She likes to poke and walk on the heads of her sleeping sisters, and if somebody gets a treat, Lumpy tries to steal it.  She’s called Lumpy because her beak was pink and knobby when she arrived, though it’s less so now.

barred rock chickbarred rock chickTwo Patch & One Patch
(Barred Rocks)

Two Patch (at left) has a white patch in front and back of each eye, which makes her look a bit bespectacled.  She’s a bit of a loner, but she’s big and no-nonsense.  She’ll peck at any bird who’s encroaching on her turf.  One Patch (at right), though rather shy and oddly dirigible-shaped, is the friendliest of the Barred Rocks.  She’ll sit on my palm for minutes on end and often snoozes peaceably with the other birds.

ameraucana chickameraucana chickFeather & Spalty

Feather (at left) is named after Zoe’s fish.  She’s also been called “Big Blonde” and “The Mean One” (after her behavior the first day).  She’s mellowed out since then, but she is still cliquish and mostly hangs out with Spalty.  Spalty (at right) was called “the darker Ameraucana” for a while, until it occurred to us her plumage looked a bit like spalted maple.  Spalty was the most wide-awake of the birds and took a while to settle into a nap routine.  Both Ameraucanas seem super-thirsty and are at the watering trough every few minutes.

silver laced wyandotte chicksilver laced wyandotte chickStripèd & Stormy
(Silver Laced Wyandottes)

The smallest and most docile of the birds, Stripèd and Stormy also look as though they’ll be the most beautiful.  Stripèd (at left) is the kids’ favorite, with her high-contrast markings and mostly white face.  She’s also the underdog (underchick?), having been weak and borderline on arrival.  Now she’s feisty.  Stormy, despite her name, is the sweetest and calmest of the lot.  She has thunderhead-grey plumage, dark cheeks, and a quiet temperament.  Unfortunately, Lumpy harasses her a lot. She’s usually as far from the action as she can reasonably get, and she likes people.

It’s still too early to say who’s in charge.

silver laced wyandotte, barred rock, ameraucanaThe long-awaited (and maybe slightly feared) day is here: our chicks have arrived!  Did I say chicks?  I meant: Assistant Gardeners.

We have 4 Barred Rocks, 2 Silver Laced Wyandottes, and 2 Ameraucanas.

I can’t believe how much they already behave like, well, chickens–drinking, pecking, cheeping, napping, pooping, attempting to fly, and falling on their heads.

There are already personalities.  At one point all of them fell asleep except the darker Silver Laced, who promptly started cheeping at the top of her lungs and woke the rest of them all up.  The big Ameraucana sleeps on her feet.   The Barred Rocks seem more adventurous and (slightly) more intelligent.

Can’t wait till the kids come home!

Boston Globe cookbook reviewI’m a sucker for chicken romances, which are practically their own whole new genre of cookbook these days.

Jennifer Trainer Thompson’s has a good mix of story and information, but at first I didn’t think I’d find much new in it as a cookbook.  Yet it grew on me over the days of testing, until I finally realized that it was becoming one of the ones I liked best.

I’ve gotten two major additions to my regular cooking repertoire from it–scrambled eggs with Indian flavors (tomato, cilantro, cumin etc) and a classic egg salad–which is more than one gets from many cookbooks. It may not seem like much, but think for a moment about why you love your favorite cookbooks–it’s probably due to just a handful of recipes.

Meanwhile, in other household news, we’re getting our own first chicks tomorrow.  Wait up, bandwagon! the Chang-te Veldes are finally jumping on.

Click here to read today’s review of The Fresh Egg.

spring asparagus emerging garden vegetables



new asparagus

only lacking for some sun

about to explode

Now cooking

order my book!

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